Tuesday, 24 September 2019
An tOrd Gnó - Order of Business
The Order of Business is No. 1, motion regarding Data Protection Act 2018 (section 60(6)) (Central Bank of Ireland) Regulations 2019, referral to committee, to be taken on the conclusion of the Order of Business without debate; No. 2, motion regarding the Official Languages Act 2003 (Public Bodies) Regulations 2019, referral to committee, to be taken on the conclusion of No. 1 without debate; No. 3, Social Welfare Bill 2019, Committee Stage, to be taken on the conclusion of No. 2 and to adjourn at 6.30 p.m., if not previously concluded; and No. 4, statements on the report of the Seanad Reform Implementation Group, to be taken at 6.30 p.m. and to adjourn not later than 8.30 p.m., if not previously concluded, with the time allocated to group spokespersons not to exceed eight minutes and that of all other Senators not to exceed five minutes.
On behalf of the Fianna Fáil group, I welcome everybody back to the Seanad. I hope we have a very productive session. I commend everyone who has worked on the restoration project. We are all delighted to be back in here. Many of us believed we would not be back considering how long the works were to take. It is fantastic to be back. I am particularly happy that the Leader is here with us and has not taken an extended holiday to the Rugby World Cup in Japan like his colleagues have. I am glad he is here for the opening of business. It is great to see him.
It is now 37 days until 31 October. Most of the media commentary and political discourse over recent months has been about Brexit, Boris and the budget. Today's UK Supreme Court judgment was unanimous. It is very striking. It has been confirmed that Westminster is meeting tomorrow to discuss the ramifications of the judgment. We all hope in this House that some common sense will prevail across the UK parties and that they will focus on what the majority have already said about preventing a hard and disorderly Brexit on 31 October. While common sense has not been in abundance in the United Kingdom of late, it is crucial that Ireland not become a casualty of any premature, knee-jerk political reactions. There has been a sense for quite some time that Ireland has not been ready for a hard Brexit and that there has been an all-right-on-the-night attitude seeping in. This needs to change rapidly. There were mixed messages last week after the UK Prime Minister visited Dublin.There were descriptions of a positive mood music at the start of the week but these were dampened down completely towards the end of the week. There has been some stop-start momentum building up. The UK Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, says he is anxious to get a deal, yet he and his Government have still not produced any written papers for the EU as to how they believe the Single Market will be protected on the island of Ireland or how border checks will be prevented. He said he would rather die in a ditch than apply for an extension. We still do not know the impact of this morning’s UK Supreme Court judgment on parliamentary motions. These are not insignificant stumbling blocks. Jean-Claude Juncker made this clear when he met the UK Prime Minister at the end of last week. We all need to be wary of not falling into rhetoric and remain focused on protecting jobs, regions and trade in Ireland.
The budget, due in two weeks’ time, will be dominated by Brexit. Some commentators are calling it boring as there have been no threatening redlines or demands from Fianna Fáil that could cause instability. Our sensible and pragmatic approach annoys them and some in Fine Gael. Our party agreed to a fourth budget because of Brexit and nothing else. We put the country first and foremost.
We are all used to Senator Buttimer hitting out at Fianna Fáil regularly. He rarely stands up in the Chamber without taking a pop at our party leader, Deputy Micheál Martin. It is an interesting tactic when he knows Deputy Micheál Martin is not here to defend himself against his many spurious accusations.
As Michelle Obama said some time ago, when political opponents go low, we go high. I intend to do that. There is only so much space available on the high moral ground. I do not intend to take that position from the Leader.
Fianna Fáil has some priorities and demands in this budget with discussions in this regard ongoing. These include prioritising sectoral protection measures in the agrifood, tourism and small and medium-sized enterprise sectors against the potential devastating impacts of Brexit. We also want to protect the poor and the vulnerable by ensuring this is a progressive budget. It was interesting to read the Taoiseach’s speech to the UN about the introduction of a carbon tax. Instead of a dividend being introduced, he announced a ring-fenced fund. Fianna Fáil has been calling for this for a long time. We welcome this U-turn as it is the only way of protecting against fuel poverty.
Outside of the bubbles of Leinster House and of Brexit, there are everyday issues, namely, housing, health and the ever-increasing cost of living, which are having a negative impact on people and cannot be ignored. With rents at such a high level, a whole generation of people are being locked out of the housing market. Today, we read of Kennedy Wilson boasting that it made more money on rents in Dublin than in Los Angeles. This is a damning indictment of the Fine Gael Government. The housing system is broken. While there have been many announcements, the Government sadly lacks delivery. The home ownership rate stands at 68%, the lowest since 1971. Countries such as Germany and Austria have seen significant increases in home ownership while ours has fallen.
People are struggling to pay childcare costs and even avail of it. Our transport system is creaking. Our quality of life is suffering. Yesterday, we had the bizarre situation of Iarnród Éireann being forced to ask passengers to stagger their journey times to reduce overcrowding. This shows how out of control the public transport system has become. I have constantly called on the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Ross, to address overcrowding issues on the northern commuter line. He promised that 28 carriages would be refurbished and delivered but this still has not happened.
There are issues around the direct provision system. We all know it was originally supposed to be a temporary measure. Now, 20 years later it has not been tackled, is not sustainable and is completely inhumane.
I look forward to discussing the several challenges which I have outlined.
Before I call the next speaker, I welcome Councillor Adam Teskey and Deputy Neville to the Gallery, as well as the Ryans from Tipperary. There is a large gang of them so I will not name them all. They are still celebrating the All-Ireland hurling final win down there.
There is much nervousness across the water in the United Kingdom about a certain matter.I do not want election speeches today. I will be fair. I will give a bit of latitude.
First, I endorse warmly the remarks the Cathaoirleach made of congratulation of those involved in the restoration of Leinster House, not least this Chamber itself, and I express my admiration for the work they did. I had the privilege of being shown through it when it was at a very raw stage of rehabilitation and the extraordinary skills that were shown in restoring the House and the extent of the task that faced the contractors was substantial. I thank the members of staff of Oireachtas Éireann and of this House for their courtesy over the past two years.
I propose an amendment to the Order of Business in relation to the statements on the report of the Seanad Reform Implementation Group to delete the proposed time limits of eight and six minutes and to insert instead that all contributions, including that of the Minister, should be limited to 12 minutes. This is an important issue. It is a matter of constitutional importance on which Senators should be entitled to spend some time debating rather than be shoehorned into a very short period of time of six minutes.
In that context, the practice in this House of limiting ourselves in our contributions but then inviting in a Minister who is free to deliver a lengthy tract, which we have the advantage of reading, seeing and hearing at the same time, is undesirable. We run our own business here. I understand the Minister of State, Deputy Phelan, is proposing to come here this evening and he should be limited to the same period of time as the rest of us if he will contribute to this debate, especially in view of the absence to date of any proper response to the report, which has been in the hands of the Government now for so long.
There has been recent press and media comment to the effect that as a result of the financial crisis in RTÉ, which I understand to be a real crisis, a number of proposals are in contemplation, one of which is the possible ending of Lyric FM.
Donkey's years ago, when the pirate stations were functioning, I remember meeting a very senior executive of RTÉ who claimed that if pirate stations were legalised and if there was any competition with RTÉ on what were then called pop music stations, it would be the end of democracy in Ireland. As a result, we got 2FM. If there are to be economies in Montrose as to what goes out, surely it makes sense that that which would not be broadcast were it not for the licence fee, in other words, Lyric FM, should be preserved, and if there is some sacrifice in service, 2FM might join the myriad other stations that are competing for that particular market.
I do not want to get into a discussion of earnings of individual broadcasters, but anybody who listens to the radio a good deal, as I have done for a long time, and who listens to the advertisement slots on RTÉ must be struck by the fact that nearly all of the advertisements are now either self-advertisements or advertisements for semi-State bodies and that the great majority of advertising is being sucked up by other institutions. If one channel hops, on Sky News one will see satellite channels with advertisements directed at the Irish market in significant amounts. It makes one wonder if it is really the case that RTÉ is being properly financially managed if it can devote all its advertising slots to warning about the dangers of not having a television licence, telling of the next programme the station will have, advertising its own merits as a news channel or whatever, or giving subsidised advertising to concerts and the like and stating that it is supporting the arts.The only alternative, in volume, in RTÉ seems to be advertisements for road safety and other such advertisements.
The point I return to is that Lyric FM would not exist were it not for the licence fee. It is for the licence fee and public service broadcasting that we are willing to pay that contribution. We are not there to subsidise alternative stations to the pop music stations. We are paying our licence fee to get something else over and above some form of public broadcasting that we would not otherwise receive. The suggestion that we would sacrifice Lyric FM at this point and keep to 2FM in existence is deeply offensive and an indication of completely wrong priorities in Montrose. I hope the Leader will bring in the relevant Minister to address this issue in the House and to justify any proposal to close down Lyric FM.
Gabhaim buíochas leis an gCathaoirleach and I welcome everybody back to what may be the final term.
In the midst of the chaos created by Boris Johnson, he must understand that Ireland will not be the collateral damage for his Brexiteer ambitions. As somebody who lived in Britain for a number of years, I would say that what happened there today is absolutely astonishing. It is also astonishing in that the British Prime Minister forced the British Queen to act unlawfully. In all these things-----
What it really tells us is that we need to be in charge of our own destiny. We cannot leave the fate of our country and our State in the hands of people like Boris Johnson. If people do not see that and if we, as legislators and leaders in this country, do not see that, then we are failing the population. We need a united front to protect our livelihoods and in interests of the country and of the peace process. I say that, in particular, to those in Fianna Fáil because they are squawking repeatedly around this at a time we have to stand and stick together. We are fortunate enough to have the support of the other European countries in this farcical situation Britain has put us in.
I refer to this idea of Fianna Fáil putting the country first. I will remind Fianna Fáil of how it put the country first and its priorities. Its priorities were-----
What I want to say, and it is very current, relates to what has happened in terms of the problems that have arisen with the beef industry and the processing companies. That matter did not land on our table today or yesterday. It landed did so under a Fianna Fáil Government which had a close relationships with large corporate donors. Tribunals have proven that there was a direct correlation between favours being done for the meat industry and large donations made to Fianna Fáil by Goodman International, Master Meats, Hibernia and others. Let us not sit here and pretend that Fianna Fáil cares about farmers, carers or the children who do not get seats on school buses because it does do not.
I second Senator McDowell's amendment to the Order of Business, if that is all right with him. I very strongly agree with him about Lyric FM. It is only a €6 million budget, which is minuscule in terms of the global budget of RTÉ. The station is a real leader in classical music. It is superb and I listen to it all the time.
With regard to the redecoration of the House, I congratulate those involved, particularly on the fact they left the ceiling in the original colours. These are quite lovely and so much better than it was in the 1950s and 1960s, with those dull brown colours. There are also the magnificent Waterford glass chandeliers. We can all be proud of this Irish artwork. I am a little surprised by the existence of what are, apparently, two mobile telephones on the ceiling. There is a kind of blob beneath them. I am also not quite so crazy about the mustard colour on the walls. I would have preferred a lighter colour. All in all, however, it is an absolutely superb job and we are delighted to be back.
I wish to raise a couple of issues. The first concerns a man called Paul Graham, who is 80 years old. Mr. Graham was born and raised in the Church of Ireland's Bethany Home in Dublin but he has been refused an Irish passport. It is quite extraordinary that an Irishman, born presumably of Irish parents, although unknown, is being denied an Irish passport at the end of his days. This is completely wrong. The second issue is from a religious sister who contacted me about an article by Fintan O'Toole in The Irish Times. The 27th Amendment states, "... a person born in the island of Ireland, which includes its islands and seas, who does not have, at the time of the birth of that person, at least one parent who is an Irish citizen or entitled to be an Irish citizen is not entitled to Irish citizenship or nationality, unless provided for by law." While it is rather badly drafted, it does seem to rule out people. I think this is completely wrong and it is totally against the position in America, for example, as anybody born in America is automatically an American citizen.
The third matter I want to raise concerns the qualification of an unbroken year's residence when applying for naturalisation. This can create problems. One person wrote to me and pointed out that his job involves travelling abroad to represent the company by which he is employed. The qualification to which I refer would make this impossible. The position in respect of this matter must be reconsidered.
I salute the very remarkable judgment of the British Supreme Court. It is quite remarkable that the 11 judges on the court unanimously held that Johnson's proroguing of the UK Parliament was unlawful and that he unlawfully advised the Queen. That is a significant finding and I welcome it strongly.
I will not abuse anything. The Supreme Court in Britain has ruled unanimously that the UK Parliament is sovereign and that not only was the prorogation unlawful, it was null and void ab initio.Accordingly, the UK Parliament will resume tomorrow at 11.30 a.m. Hopefully, this will result in a satisfactory agreement by 14 October, which is the date by which one has to be achieved. Alternatively, the UK Government will have to seek an extension in line with the Parliament's decision, which was opposed to a no-deal Brexit.
Perhaps. The Senator would know a lot about that. I will bow to his superior knowledge. The time extension would ensure a transition period of two or three years, which would be of great benefit to both countries. We want to continue our good relations with the UK, given that we do so much trade with it, North and South, and to ensure that there will not be a border on the island of Ireland. We are all broadly of the one view, regardless of our parties. Matters continue to change by the day, but in light of the new development, perhaps the Leader will arrange for an early discussion. Could we invite the Attorney General? There are many legal aspects, and there are many Senators, apart from Senator Colm Burke, who would like to tease out some of these matters. I will leave this in the Leader's hands.
I will be brief. I agree with the Cathaoirleach's complimentary remarks about the fantastic refurbishment work done in Leinster House, particularly in our Chamber. As a member of the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission, I have been privy to the large amount of work that has been undertaken by the OPW, the contractors and our professional staff, including the Clerks of the Dáil and Seanad. I also know how much of the Ceann Comhairle and Cathaoirleach's time it has taken.
I welcome being back in this Chamber. I did not believe we would return within the current term. I invested in a pair of hearing aids because I could hear nothing whatsoever over in the other place. I will give them back. I might get a refund.
A lot of the time, one hears far too much.
This is a good day for parliamentary democracy worldwide at a time when it needs defending and support. We have seen cavalier attitudes being taken to the democratic process by leaders of two of the largest democracies in the world, namely, the UK Prime Minister, Mr. Boris Johnson, MP, and President Trump across the water in the United States of America. Democracy might not be a perfect system, but show me one better. If we let ourselves down at the top, then we are inviting people to reconsider alternatives, for example, failed systems like Marxism and so on. Whatever we say about the British, their parliamentary system has in many ways been the blueprint for many other parliamentary systems, including ours. In fairness, it is the mother of parliaments, flawed and all as it is. It has afforded opportunities for Irish politicians, be it Parnell or Redmond. Obviously, those politicians had no place of their own to speak, but they took their opportunity over there. I invite Senator Conway-Walsh and her Sinn Féin colleagues to avail of the unique opportunity that is now afforded to them to do something practical in this Brexit debate instead of spending-----
I will not go down the road of strange funny money mentioned by the other two parties. I believe we can do something practical in this House. The power-sharing Executive collapsed as a result of cash for ash and there has been no democratic voice in the Assembly since then. Considering what has happened in London, it is now urgent to get the Assembly back up and running. It would be helpful if we could have a debate with the Minister on what practical things can be done to get the power-sharing Executive back up and running at this dangerous period in Irish history. Let us clearly recall the reason it collapsed. Can we put a protocol in place in respect of cash for ash, set aside preconditions and get the Assembly back in place and focused on representing the people of Northern Ireland and the Republic and the dangers they face with a breakdown of negotiations on Brexit, which is where I believe we are going?
I wish to raise another point with the Leader on which he might facilitate me. He has heard me on many occasions raising legacy issues for apartment owners. I quoted the figure of approximately 70,000 apartment owners who are facing legacy issues, with bills ranging from €10,000 to €52,000 to rectify their apartments. The Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, said that the State will not take on responsibility for this, but the State has stepped into other areas such as the dodgy cement blocks used in Donegal and Mayo as well as pyrite. We cannot leave so many apartment owners swinging in the wind with huge financial debt and threats from fire officers that they will have to vacate their homes. Before the recess I asked the Minister of State, Deputy English, to facilitate meetings and he said he would. Unfortunately, that did not happen over the summer.
Will the Leader use his good offices to contact the Minister on behalf of this House, as many other Members, including the Leader, have raised this issue as well? We must work out a practical solution for people who bought apartments with legacy, fire and water egress issues. Basically, they were poorly built apartments due to the lack of regulation. There is an onus on us. The legislation relating to self-certification was changed in this House and the Dáil so there is a responsibility to work out a solution for the 70,000 families. As I said, something was worked out with regard to dodgy cement blocks in Donegal and Mayo and in some circumstances in respect of pyrite. Assistance must be given to people who own apartments and are in danger of losing their homes.
I remind Senators that the leaders of each group are allowed three minutes to speak. I gave some latitude today but sometimes if one gives an inch, people take a mile. I will allow every Member who has indicated a wish to do so to speak today. Senator Devine has two minutes. That applies to every other Member as well.
The rollercoaster that I thought happened a few years ago when the guy across the Atlantic broke every law with impunity keeps going. In Britain today the lawlessness has been shown with the Supreme Court ruling. We welcome that. I also believe we are not immune to it here in view of the public services card and the lawlessness it produced.The response from the Department, along the lines that it was stamping its feet, keeping the ball and pushing ahead regardless, was childish. I remind Members that this is International Fraud Awareness Week and it is apt that these rulings have come into play at this time. The aforementioned actions have come from people who should know better.
Given the climate change emergency that we face, I call on the Cathaoirleach to ask the Committee on Procedure and Privileges, CPP, to invite Ms Greta Thunberg to address this House on what she and her generation believe is the destruction of their dreams. I ask that he ensure that such an invitation is on the agenda at the next meeting of the CPP. Just before the first school strike in March I invited students to the AV room for a discussion on climate action. They were eloquent and passionate. We need to listen them and follow through with action, although I am not sure how far we will get in that regard given that €3.35 billion collected in carbon tax since 2010 has gone elsewhere and disappeared into the ether.
Finally, I am sure everyone in the House will join me in congratulating Dublin on their five in a row and three in a row victories. Up the Dubs and comhghairdeas.
I join my colleagues in welcoming today's British Supreme Court ruling, which indicates that common sense is returning to our friends and neighbours. I have often said that we view Brexit as the British accidentally shooting themselves in our foot. That said, there is goodwill in the Parliament of the United Kingdom and in this Parliament. We are committed Europeans but we want to remain good friends with the United Kingdom. We also want to ensure that the United Kingdom remains a good friend of the European Union. Up to 80% of our colleagues in Westminster and the House of Lords do not believe that Brexit is good for the United Kingdom, for relations between Ireland and the UK or for the EU. The fact that common sense appears to be prevailing must be welcomed.
On another note, which may be related to Brexit, I was truly appalled by the depraved attack on Mr. Kevin Lunney, a Quinn Industrial Holdings director who is now dealing with life-changing injuries. Last night, I watched the "Claire Byrne Live" programme on television and felt a chill as another Quinn Industrial Holdings director, Mr. John McCartin, a colleague and good friend, spoke about constant threats, including death threats, and the campaign of intimidation against company executives, including himself, over the past five years. Both Kevin Lunney and John McCartin are married with young children. What Kevin Lunney was subjected to, having been abducted by a criminal gang and tortured for over three hours, does not bear thinking about. Some of the newspaper reports of what the thugs reportedly did to Mr. Lunney were stomach-churning and raise serious questions about how close we are to the breakdown of law and order in parts of the Border region. Indeed, the journalist Ms Dearbhail McDonald said on "Claire Byrne Live" last night that the campaign of violence and intimidation is one of the greatest challenges to the rule of law since we signed the Good Friday Agreement and it is hard to disagree with that analysis. The warning signs have been there for several years.
I commend the good work being done by An Garda Síochána and the PSNI in investigating this incident. It is imperative that not only are the foot soldiers apprehended but also those who paid the gang to carry out this brutal act. Another question that must be asked is why these Quinn Industrial Holdings executives were not given sufficient protection against a background of sustained intimidation over the past five years. If gardaí can be posted outside the homes of at-risk gangland members, surely the state, North and South, can protect these citizens against loss of life? Another worrying question is why threats posted on Facebook against company management have stayed up for years. This hateful content was only removed by Facebook last Sunday night. This is a question that Facebook must answer. Last Friday, like thousands of others, I attended a peaceful protest in support of and solidarity with Quinn Industrial Holdings management and employees.Some nine and half years earlier, I was part of a cross-party delegation that met Seán Quinn and his management team in a bid to save jobs. I could never have envisaged the events which have unfolded since. We now have an obligation to do what we can to ensure the resources are in place to protect our citizens and 850 jobs in this country. This is undoubtedly the feeling in the local community, which relies so heavily on Quinn Industrial Holdings to sustain employment and the economy in the north-west region and along the Border. We must never lose sight of that fact. I look forward to increased levels of cross-Border co-operation to put an end to this horrific campaign of violence and intimidation.
Recently released figures in respect of home care packages funded by the HSE make for grim and depressing reading. They show that the number on the waiting list increased from 6,238 at the end of March to 7,346 at the end of July, an increase of 18% in four months. The list for the Cavan-Monaghan region now stands at 326 people. It is important that we do not forget that behind these figures are vulnerable, elderly people and their families. Older people want to stay in their own homes. They are happier, healthier and more content there. Unfortunately, in many instances discharges from our acute hospitals are delayed simply because there are no home care packages in place for the patients in question. Beds are held up, which causes a backlog throughout the entire system. Many of our vulnerable elderly are also forced into nursing homes as a result of this lack of home care packages. The policy makes no sense either from the perspective of health or from a financial perspective. Figures I recently came across highlight that very point. To keep someone in an acute hospital setting for one week costs the taxpayers of this country €6,000. To keep someone in a nursing home for one week costs anywhere between €1,300 and €1,400. A home care package of 6.5 hours costs the taxpayer €165 per week. Those figures say it all. It is time that Government wakes up to this issue and treats our vulnerable elderly people with the respect they have earned.
I welcome the cessation of blockades at meat processing factories throughout the country. It is important and timely that this has happened. The factories are now free to return to slaughtering cattle and farmers who were under great pressure to get their animals slaughtered can now do so. This will help to protect our meat industry and the jobs of workers who have been discommoded by the blockades and the inability of the factories to process meat. I will, however, point out and highlight that the farmers who stood at the gates did so simply because they have no bargaining power when dealing with the meat processors. They go to a factory to have their animals slaughtered and must take the price offered. There is no negotiation. The farmers who stood at the gates have succeeded in making the public and the mainstream media conscious of the fact that they are producing animals at a loss while the multiple retailers and meat processors in our food supply chain and beef industry are all making profits. When the farmers run into difficulty they have to come to Government to bail them out and to assist them. This is not sustainable. There is more work to be done, but I want to acknowledge and compliment the farmers, who conducted themselves in a very fine manner in this regard. It was a desperate act, but it is a desperate situation. I hope all energies will now be focused on finding real, long-term solutions for the sustainability of our primary producers, our farmers, in the beef industry.
I will refer to the beef exceptional aid measure, which received sign-off from the European Commission and the Minister, Deputy Creed, in July. I welcome this €100 million fund to assist farmers.When it was opened for applications in mid-August, take-up was slow. Initially, just 20,000 farmers applied. I understand that 34,517 farmers had applied by the closing date last Friday. They will account for €78.1 million of the €100 million. The money that is given is very welcome. The farmers who are down on their luck are really down on their luck. I suggest that the reference period during which farmers are given a subsidy for the slaughter of animals should be extended. At the moment, it runs from 24 September 2018 to 12 September 2019. I am asking for it to be pushed out to July to enable any farmer who presents with his cattle during the extended period to apply. We should spend the remaining funds of approximately €22 million which have not been claimed by farmers. We will be going to the EU Commission again to look for money because of the uncertainty associated with Brexit. Obviously, we do not know right here and now. I do not think it would be good policy on our part to be sending any money back. Farmers desperately need it. There is scope to extend the terms of reference. I ask the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine to seek to get the agreement of the EU Commission for this to be done.
I welcome all Members back. A fantastic job has been done on the Chamber. Like everyone else, I am delighted that we are back in this historic room. I hope we will have a productive session right up until next summer, at least.
I echo the comments of Senator McDowell and others about Lyric FM. Lyric FM's budget is a tiny percentage of RTÉ's total budget. It has been suggested that its budget is €6 million, whereas RTÉ has revenues of €340 million. We are talking about 1% or 2%. It seems that RTÉ has decided to deal with that. If it had cut some of the top salaries, it probably would have found €6 million handy enough. This is something that could be looked at because Lyric FM provides a valuable service that would not otherwise be available.
It is important that we focus all of our energies on Brexit issues. We have seen what has happened in the UK today. We keep saying it is unprecedented and it is not going to happen. We cannot believe what is happening. Every day, something new happens and we say the same things. Dublin Port has 3 km of road available, but it will need far more than that in the event of a no-deal Brexit. I urge everybody on our side and on the UK side to try to keep cool heads and get some kind of a deal that works for us as well as possible. Obviously, most of us would prefer if Article 50 were revoked. I do not see that happening. We should try to focus on the least worst deal that is available.
We all need to play our part on the issue of climate change. We need to bring in the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment on a far more regular basis to discuss what is happening. It is great that young people and their families are concerned, but we need to look at everything from our settlement strategy to how we build our schools and hospitals, how we allow people to build houses and how we get around. Irish Rail has told people to try to travel earlier or later because the Minister has not sanctioned enough rail carriages for them. We need more public transport. We need capacity on that public transport at the right times. This is something that is in the hands of the Government, but it has refused to take action.
We urgently need to do something about the cost of insurance, which the Seanad has debated on many occasions. People are facing significant challenges. Over the summer, play centres, playgrounds and adventure centres closed down because there had been massive increases in their insurance costs. Work is being done, but it is happening at a slower pace than many people would be happy with. It certainly needs to be tackled.
We need to focus on the budget, which will be tabled by the Minister for Finance, Deputy Donohoe, two weeks from today. My party has facilitated the last three budgets and we intend to do so again in two weeks' time, subject to the parameters that we have outlined being agreed to.
I do not doubt that. Last Friday, the Central Bank issued a very stern warning. It pointed out that in the event of a no-deal Brexit or a hard Brexit, the national debt could increase by €22 billion in the next couple of years. Corporation tax is incredibly welcome. The more of it the better. It went from €4 billion in 2014 to €10 billion last year. If it had stayed at €4 billion, we would have been €6 billion short last year. It is a hell of a lot of fiscal space to worry about.We need to make sure that our national finances are being managed as best we can and to focus on the challenges. There are very significant challenges to our economy in terms of Brexit and corporation tax.
Mar atá ráite ag mo chomhghleacaithe, tá sé deas a bheith abhaile arís. Ba mhaith liom tréaslú leis an mhéid atá ráite ag daoine eile ó thaobh an sár-jab atá déanta ag na hoibrithe san áit seo. Tá cuma ar dóigh ar an áit. Go maire an áit seo an céad agus níos faide ar aghaidh.
It is difficult not to reference the political chaos across the Irish Sea. At this stage, I suggest that Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade come to address the House on the latest Brexit developments and the preparedness of the Government in response to what is happening.
On a separate note, I want to welcome the publication of the Thirty-ninth Amendment of the Constitution (Presidential Elections) Bill 2019. It is something I have called for on a number of occasions since coming into the House, along with my colleague, Senator Lawless, who has done valiant work with the Government and diaspora networks around the world to ensure that the first tangible step of the process has come to pass. In welcoming the publication of the Bill, which is the first tangible step towards the realisation of this right and entitlement for citizens, namely, the right to vote for our President, I want to commend the relevant Ministers and their departmental officials who have worked diligently on what has been a complicated and complex set of proposals and legislation. In appreciating that work, I am not diminishing it for a second. What the Bill seeks to do is something very basic and simple, namely, to enfranchise Irish citizens no matter where in Ireland or the world they reside with that most basic entitlement of any citizen, that is, the right to vote.
I would have wished to be able to rise today and join in the well merited praise and congratulations to the board of works and join in the valedictory remarks welcoming each other back, but sadly it is my duty to do something very different. To follow on from Senator Feighan's remarks, I wish to publicly and personally condemn the horrific and barbaric attack on Mr. Kevin Lunney from Quinn Industrial Holdings. It is a shocking crime. No matter who or what the victim was, it would be a shocking crime, but I know that the crime has been exacerbated by the fact that Mr. Lunney has a very young family and was a particularly civic minded and wonderful contributor to his community. The crime is objectively horrible no matter what his job is. He is a very good man and that should go on the record. I commend the very courageous exposition by my friend and colleague, John McCartin, of the issues around this on "Claire Byrne Live" last night
I ask the Leader to invite the Minister, Deputy Flanagan, to the House after a few weeks have elapsed. He will best judge when he can come here, but I do not think he could come to the House during the early phases of the investigation. I would like him to come to the House to provide assurance that a sufficient amount of Garda resources are going into the area and that things are being followed up. This demands a Limerick-style solution, as was necessary with the Dundon gang. It demands a similar solution to that which was necessary to deal with the gangland wars in Dublin. It demands the kind of response that we had to the tragic murder of Veronica Guerin some years ago. It is of that proportion and level of crisis.
I ask the Leader to join in the condemnation and, in particular, impress upon the Minister, Deputy Flanagan, the nature of the concerns I have articulated about policing numbers, treating the situation as an emergency and giving it a Limerick status.I ask that, at an appropriate time, the Minister, Deputy Flanagan, come to the House to make an appropriate statement. I have great confidence in the Minister, who has proven himself to be very capable in his Ministry, but it is my duty to know that this is transparent and is in front of this House. We have spoken about the preservation of Parliament abroad and we need to preserve the dignity and importance of our Parliament by having the Minister respond on this horrific issue. I am very saddened to have had to begin my contributions in this session on this subject.
The gender pay gap in respect of pensions was constantly brought up at my clinics during the summer. According to a recent report from the Economic and Social Research Institute, an Irish woman's weekly income is €153 less than that of an Irish man in retirement. The report found that women were less likely to receive a contributory pension than men and that, among those who did, their average income was much lower than the average income received by men, while taking years out to look after children meant a reduction in contributory pension and this has affected women disproportionately. They have generally worked for fewer years at retirement and this means they have also had less time to build up a private pension. According to the report, over 90% of retired men had worked for more than 30 years compared with just 33% of retired women. We need to look at how the contributory pension is allocated. We were worth nothing for all the years of raising this generation and, for the benefit of that same generation, we now need to look at policies to enable a greater contribution in the workforce by women. Policies which enable greater continuity in employment and encourage fewer gender traps are called for now. We need to examine our policies to create more affordable childcare and long-term care services and to ensure those policies are robust enough to enable women to stay in the workforce.
The report underlines how the Government's plans to look at private pensions as the saviour will do nothing to address the pay gap, because the numbers will stay the same. Women are more likely to earn less and have less secure employment, meaning they cannot build a private pension in the same way men can. It is high time we valued the work women do in raising families in their homes. We in Fianna Fáil are working hard to increase the home carer tax credit, but this measure is not enough of an acknowledgement of the savings delivered to the State by the women who stay at home to raise families. While some dads do this, the majority are women.
I congratulate the OPW on the wonderful restoration of this room. I hope our intellectual prowess and argument can parallel it. However, I do not particularly like the front door to the building. It reminds of a funereal door, into a very modern undertakers. We have lost the clink and clitch of the mahogany door and I have written to the OPW, and to the ushers, about it. Our own room here is wonderful and I am glad to be back in it.
I wish to raise an issue I raised in the last semester, and which is coming to fruition now. It concerns healthcare workers. The IMO has sent out statistics that are quite frightening, such as that we have the lowest number of medical specialists in the EU; 520 consultant posts not filled; outpatient lists exceeding 500,000; 50% of health specialists due to retire in the next five years; one quarter of GPs due to retire; and unprecedented levels of emigration among our newly qualified doctors. This is extremely serious. We can talk about Brexit all we like, and we can talk about what Boris Johnson is and is not doing at the High Court and the Supreme Court, but we have a serious problem in the health area, especially as we get older. I ask the Leader to invite the Minister for Health to come into the House. We need to attend to a lot of these problems with our hospitals, not just in the great city of Dublin or urban areas like Limerick and Galway but all over Ireland.These are serious problems reflecting what is happening in our health sector. It goes back to the issue of healthcare workers, the shortage of critical skills and the very people we need to mind our elder population not being allowed to get visas to work in Ireland. I wanted to put that on the record. I ask the Leader to arrange for the Minister for Health to come into the House to address those issues.
I welcome everyone back to the House for this term. Today's edition of the Irish Examinerreports on the publication of an audit of food offered in canteens in six schools. The idea of food being available in schools was designed to promote healthy eating but the survey indicates food is being offered that does not represent health eating. Items such as chips and muffins have been introduced partly because the companies providing the service are not making a profit from promoting healthy eating items of food. This is a worrying trend when we want to decrease the level of obesity but we find it is increasing among our young people every year. If schools are not able to deliver in this area, we face a major challenge. The audit was carried out in six schools by the school of public health in UCD. It is an interesting study and it sounds alarm bells about this issue. We need to ask the Minister for Health and the Minister for Education and Skills to co-operate to ensure this trend does not continue and to work out a plan for healthy eating and encourage young people to buy into it.
There is a related issue concerning medical practice in that GPs are reluctant to raise the issue of obesity with parents whose children are clearly overweight. We need to ensure this healthcare issue is not let drift and it needs to be dealt with immediately. I ask the Leader to raise this matter with the Minister for Education and Skills and the Minister for Health.
I want to raise the issue of RTÉ Lyric FM, which was raised by my colleagues, Senators McDowell and Norris. Lyric FM is based in Limerick city. I met its staff yesterday and they are extremely concerned. Someone set off a flare gun on "Prime Time" more than a week ago out of the blue. The staff were not aware of the possibility of a threat to Lyric FM. What is required is clarity about its future, both as RTÉ Lyric FM and that it will continue to be based in Limerick city. I have a letter dated 20 February 1997 in which the then Minister with responsibility for the arts and now President, Michael D. Higgins, approved the establishment of RTÉ Lyric FM. It came on foot of a Government Green Paper and RTÉ actively pursued the setting up of Lyric FM. It has been a resounding success. It has retained it numbers. It provides quality programmes. It is branded. Twenty three staff members are based in Lyric FM. In terms of its cost, the licence fee goes directly to what its does, which is to broadcast classical music. Its remit should be extended to the arts. It covers snippets of the arts but RTÉ in terms of Lyric FM has a wealth of experience. I want the message to go out loud and clear from this Chamber that RTÉ must give an uncategorical assurance that Lyric FM will be maintained-----
Furthermore, I understand that a draft report has already been completed by RTÉ management in respect of this matter and that it is to be considered by the board, possibly at a meeting tomorrow. This is about the lives of real people, namely, staff who are living in Limerick and rearing families there. They have bills to pay. That is apart from the fact that Lyric FM provides a quality product. It is based on Cornmarket Street in the heart of Limerick city. A significant investment was put into the station. The RTÉ regional studios are based in the same building. It is critical that the matter would be put to bed and that RTÉ make a statement to the effect that Lyric FM will continue to provide the quality product it has been providing in the heart of Limerick city, particularly as the station was pioneered by RTÉ and, in particular, the President, Michael D. Higgins.
I thank the Cathaoirleach. I wish to be associated with welcoming everybody back to this magnificent Chamber. I congratulate and thank everybody involved for the magnificent job they have done in refurbishing the House. I wish to add to the long list of names the Cathaoirleach outlined of those who were responsible for bringing the work to fruition. The former Ceann Comhairle, Deputy Barrett, played a leading role early on in the refurbishment, not just of the Chamber but the old part of Leinster House. He was adamant that the work would continue after the work on the former National College of Art and Design was finished so that the contractors engaged by the Office of Public Works would not have to move out and then have to move back in again, that there would be a continuation and that the works would be completed. The Deputy's name should be added to the Cathaoirleach's long list.
Could the Leader invite in the Minister of State, Deputy Canney, to come before the House for a debate on the leisure fishing industry? The Minister of State has responsibility for natural resources and community affairs. Leisure fishing is dying as a sport. Something radical must be done to revive fly fishing, trout fishing, salmon fishing, etc. We have the finest rivers and lakes in Europe but the art of fishing is dying. We must do something. It is the responsibility of the Minister of State's Department to do something urgently, whether involving the Inland Fisheries Ireland or whoever has the remit for it. Something must be done. We must bring the Minister of State before the House.
I also want the Minister of State to address an issue affecting the lakes in the vicinity of Castlebar. I do not know whether it has spread to other lakes. Mink have killed almost all of swans on the lakes in the Castlebar area. There is an infestation of mink which are doing unbelievable damage to the swan population. Something radical must be done. I ask that the Minister of State come to the Chamber to discuss both issues as a matter of urgency.
That is the second time this week that I have heard of a problem concerning swans. A councillor from Wicklow contacted me to say that dogs had killed three swans. The poor old swans are getting it tough this weather.
I ask the Leader, a little belatedly, to respond. I apologise to anyone whom I missed. Some people were busy and perhaps have left the Chamber. Everybody seemed to want to come in and I was trying to be fair to everyone. Sometimes, it does not work. I call on the Leader to respond to the questions raised.
I thank the 19 Members of the House for their contribution on the Order of Business. On my behalf and on that of the House, I offer our sympathies to our colleague and friend, Senator Dolan, on the sad passing of his brother Jim during the course of the summer recess. Ar dheis láimh Dé go raibh a anam dílis.
On a happier note, I congratulate Paul Conway on his new appointment in Brussels. I wish him well and thank him for his tenure as Superintendent of the Houses. I wish the acting Superintendent, John Flaherty, every success and longevity in the post. I hope he is successful. As Captain of the Guard, he has been a wonderful friend to all of us here.
That brings me very nicely to the restoration project and to join the Cathaoirleach and all Members of the House, in the words of commendation to all involved in the project that has now happily reached a culmination in the 270 year old home being restored.Táimid ar ais le chéile sa Seomra iontach seo. Tá sár-obair déanta ag gach duine a bhí páirteach sa project. Cé a cheapfadh trí bliana ó shin, ar an gcéad lá den Seanad seo, go mbeimid fós ag labhairt anseo?Three years have elapsed since we became Members of this Seanad. Who would have thought we would still be here?
I will not rise to the by-election commentary from my colleagues and friends across the Chamber but Senator Clifford-Lee should remember the important point that we have 37 days left until the end of October. This Government, led by An Taoiseach, the Tánaiste and the Minister of State, Deputy McEntee, has been very much to the fore in ensuring the green jersey is worn across the world, not just in Europe. That is evidenced by the solidarity we have received so far, which culminated this morning in the meetings which were held in New York. We also had the unanimous decision of the UK Supreme Court today.
Senators Clifford-Lee, Conway-Walsh, Norris, Coghlan, O'Sullivan, Humphreys, Devine, Feighan and Horkan referred to Brexit, the UK Supreme Court judgment and Northern Ireland. I want to make it clear, in case people have forgotten, that there have been no mixed messages from this Government. There has been a consistent, clear line from this Government. The Taoiseach has been emphatic, as have other members of the Government, regarding the binding assurances required that there will not be a hard border. While the decision by the Supreme Court in the UK, which is a different jurisdiction, is a matter for the UK Parliament, all of us should celebrate the primacy of parliament being upheld in the UK today. As Members of Parliament, Members of this House and the Lower House should be conscious of what they say and how they say it. Part of our job is to hold the Executive to account but we must also hold public bodies to account and pass legislation in a manner befitting a parliament. Our language and behaviour are important.
I welcome all Senators back and wish all of them a very successful term. Whether we finish in November or May 2020 or whether we go on until 2021 is work for another day. We are back and it is our job to work collectively to ensure that the public good is served in this House. I assure Senators of my co-operation at all times in that regard.
Senator Clifford-Lee raised the issue of climate change. To be fair, on one level a green tax should be examined. The budget is coming up in two weeks' time and the Seanad will discuss it in due course.
I will not rise to the Senator's petty political comments regarding the leader of Fianna Fáil, whose record as a Minister in various Governments from 2000 to 2011, including as Minister for Health and Children, is well documented. We can scrutinise that record at a later date if the Senator wishes.
Senators McDowell, Norris and Kieran O'Donnell raised the important issue of Lyric FM and its role. In its considerations, RTÉ must recognise that Lyric FM is a niche radio station which should be maintained. I am surprised that the President has not commented on this already given that he was the Minister who sponsored the relevant legislation.
I am mindful of Senator McDowell's comment in The Sunday Business Postlast weekend. It is important that we recognise the importance of Lyric FM. When RTÉ was in a similar position in 1999, it closed RTÉ local radio in Cork, which provided an important service to the people of Cork. I join the Senators, as I hope other Senators will, in insisting that RTÉ does not close Lyric FM and that it maintains regional broadcasting, including its presence in Fr. Mathew Street in Cork, but also in the context of Lyric FM and the service it provides. RTÉ should also consider what TG4 has done for the promulgation of the Irish language and its coverage of all things cultural. By the same token, comments were made about pirate radio stations, which we all remember and listened to late into the night. Many of those stations became local radio stations and many of the disc jockeys and presenters on them are now serving us very well on local radio.I will be happy to have the Minister, Deputy Madigan, come to the House to discuss RTÉ and its management.
With regard to Senator McDowell's proposed amendment to the Order of Business, I propose, in keeping with my good humour this afternoon and my collegiality, that we allow Members 12 minutes each on Seanad reform and that we give the Minister 12 minutes in which to make an opening statement and ten minutes in which to reply. I am very open to the idea of changing the time limits for Members' contributions. Senator McDowell has made comments in this regard on a number of occasions at meetings of the Seanad Committee on Procedure and Privileges. I am open to the suggestion on examining speaking slots and speaking times. Rather than dividing the House on a matter on which we have views in common, I ask the Senator to consider what I am saying.
Senators Conway-Walsh and Mulherin raised the issue of the beef industry. I join both of them in thanking all involved in the negotiations and in bringing an end to the dispute. We will have statements on the beef industry next Thursday in the House.
Senator Norris referred to Mr. Paul Graham in respect of the passport. I would be happy to have a conversation with the Senator later about the matter. If he believes a Commencement matter is appropriate, it might be a way to proceed. I will be happy to talk to the Senator afterwards.
Senator Coghlan, in commenting on Brexit, made an interesting point regarding the invitation to the Attorney General to come to the House. I would be happy to talk to the Senator in the Seanad Office regarding the Attorney General coming in. I do not know whether the Attorney General has ever come to the House. I do not know whether we have a role in that but I would be happy to have a discussion on it.
Senator Humphreys raised an important matter, namely, the legacy issues concerning the quality of building and of apartments. The Minister of State, Deputy English, will be in the House on Thursday. I would be very happy to have the debate then.
Senator Devine raised the issue of the public services card. As she knows, the Government has a different view. It is happy, in the interest of transparency, to have a discussion and debate on the card. It is important to recognise this is not what some people are portraying it to be. It is worth noting that the Attorney General, an independent law officer of the Government, advised the Government. I would be happy to have a debate on the issue in due course.
I join Senator Devine in congratulating Baile Átha Cliath in winning five championships in a row, and I congratulate the ladies on winning three. I remind Senator Devine that the only team to beat Dublin in an all-Ireland final this year was Cork, in the under-20s. She should put that on her record.
I said that. I congratulate the ladies on winning three in a row. They had a great tussle with Galway in the final. It was a very poor day but the quality of the football was to be commended. I congratulate the ladies of Dublin on their victory.
Senators Feighan and O'Reilly raised a very important and sensitive matter, namely, the attack on Mr. Kevin Lunney. All of us in this House, I am sure, join in the condemnation of the barbaric attack on a husband, father, community activist and decent person going about his business. I also join the Senators in commending Mr. John McCartin on his courage last night on "Claire Byrne Live" for his articulation and the way in which he kept his dignity considering the provocation he has endured with his fellow directors in recent years. The perpetrators of these crimes are of a community and they are known. People have a duty to come forward and assist An Garda Síochána. In due course, I will accede to Senator O'Reilly's request to have the Minister come to the House regarding the matter.
Senator Gallagher raised the issue of home care packages. A related matter was raised by Senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell, namely, the healthcare workers. We live in a society that is changing. Our needs are changing and we are living longer. We have a duty of care to senior citizens. The Irish Timesrecently had a very interesting article referring to the re-institutionalisation of care. The HSE is providing home care and home help supports worth €176.5 million but it is important to recognise that there is a lot of work to be done, notwithstanding the amount of money and the number of home help hours being provided, which amount to over 7 million.To be fair to Senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell, she has raised the issue of healthcare workers and visas for them to enter the country. It is an issue which we should pursue because there is a skills shortage and personnel deficit which needs to be addressed. I would be happy for the Minister to come to the House to discuss the matter in due course.
Senator Horkan raised the issue of insurance and the budget. I am happy to have a debate on these in the coming weeks. Senator Kieran O’Donnell commended the publication of the Thirty-ninth Amendment of the Constitution (Presidential Elections) Bill 2019. As it becomes part of our discourse, we will have a discussion on the matter. Next Tuesday evening, we will have a debate on Brexit with the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Coveney.
Senator Murnane O’Connor raised the issue of the gender pay gap. The 35% pay gap is too wide and needs to be addressed. We must also recognise the importance of the value that women bring to society and the workforce, which I support. Back in the 1980s, Doireann Ní Bhriain and Marian Finucane hosted “Women Today”. Nuala Fennell was appointed the first Minister of State with responsibility for women's affairs. I am not sure what the solution is other than we need to see the pensions committee set up by the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection, Deputy Regina Doherty, come back with a more comprehensive report. I would be happy to have that debate in due course.
Senator Colm Burke raised the issue of school meals. I have not seen the report in today’s Irish Examiner. I would be happy for the Minister of State, Deputy Catherine Byrne, to attend the House to discuss the Healthy Ireland programme which is promoting better eating.
Senator Paddy Burke raised the issue of the fishing leisure industry. Issues such as the value of sterling and Brexit uncertainty are affecting the angling sector as many of our angling tourists are from the UK. I am happy for the Minister of State, Deputy Canney, to come to the House to discuss the matter.
Mar fhocal scoir, I thank everyone involved in the Leinster House restoration project. I wish everyone a prosperous term ahead.
If Senator McDowell will accept my proposal, I hope it will avert the need for a division on the Order of Business.
As I understand it, the proposal is that each Member will have 12 minutes, including the Minister. The Minister should have ten minutes to respond.
I thank the Leader for acceding to this amendment. I have said at the Committee on Procedure and Privileges that if one goes back to Senator W.B Yeats’s speech about how we are no petty people, under our speaking rules, he would have got about a quarter of the way through it before he would have been told to sit down. We should be slightly more generous to ourselves.
The Attorney General has a right of audience in this House under Standing Order 56. Perhaps he could exercise it in the circumstances.
The agreement is that the Order of Business should be amended to provide that on No. 4, each Member’s contribution shall not exceed 12 minutes, including the Minister’s, but that the Minister shall have ten minutes to reply at the end.
Senator McDowell has proposed an amendment to the Order of Business: “That in respect of No. 4, the time allocated for the contribution of all Senators and of the Minister shall not exceed 12 minutes.”
Senator Buttimer has proposed an amendment to Senator McDowell’s amendment No. 1: “That the Minister be given ten minutes to reply to the debate.” Is the amendment to amendment No.1 agreed to? Agreed. Is amendment No. 1, as amended, agreed to? Agreed.